'Gutsy' report tells EQC to treat customers as people

Gail Kettle is EQC's claims manager.
Dean Kozanic/Fairfax NZ

Gail Kettle is EQC's claims manager.

OPINION: 

An independent report which found failings in the way the EQC handles its customers calls on EQC to think about each customer as a person and make good choices accordingly, finds Leanne Curtis.

The Earthquake Recovery and EQC Minister Gerry Brownlee recently upset people throughout greater Christchurch by announcing that a Treasury-led review suggested the EQC model was "reasonably sound" and needed only minimal changes.

That review only looked at certain aspects of EQC, including what it should offer insurance cover for, the role of EQC, and the financial management of the risk exposure to the Crown.

Leanne Curtis: EQC customers treated as claim numbers rather than people.
STACY SQUIRES

Leanne Curtis: EQC customers treated as claim numbers rather than people.

However, customers care little about those particular aspects. They care about their personal experience with EQC, and reasonably sound and minimal changes are not what people on the street talk about.

However, an opportunity for customers to feel heard may have since presented itself.

Last year EQC commissioned the independent company Linking Strategy to Implementation (LSI) to review their customer interaction model.

Read LSI report in full: EQC Customer Interaction Review

Read more: EQC 'suboptimal' and 'substandard'

Read more: Shoddy quake repairs revealed by Government investigation

Again, the scope of the review was limited, focusing this time on how well EQC were set up to deal with customer enquiries, requests and complaints. What it has revealed is more than enough for EQC to chew on.

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Our community organisation CanCERN exists to give voice to how residents are experiencing the residential recovery. We are the burr in the saddle of recovery agencies, telling them when their best made plans just don't hit the mark with the customers.

Some of them listen better than others. EQC (until very recently) has not been one of those agencies and they, along with their minister have continued to try to convince everyone they have done quite a good job with the average customer.

But nothing whispers vindication more sweetly to hurting EQC customers than a report which uses the words, "substandard", "ineffective", "inefficient", and "lacking" as descriptors.

The fact that homeowners will feel like their voice has been reflected in this report is why it is so important.

These same people have been called moaners, whingers and carpers by the very minister they believed should have been able to hold his organisation to account. Being heard may go some way to alleviating some of the anger and hurt.

The review is gutsy. LSI talked to the frontline EQC staff - people who have routinely been at the receiving end of the upset and frustrated customer.

The reviewers also talked to a "worst case scenario" customer and obviously, one was enough to highlight the myriad of holes in EQC's systems that have made it nigh on impossible for anyone to get through unscathed.

This review was an internal piece of work meant to inform EQC. It was posted online for the sake of transparency, however, if you don't know where to look, you will struggle to find it.

So what does the report show? On the positive side, it shows that EQC have reduced the time they take to answer an OIA request and are mostly meeting legislative timeframes now. The fact that people actually have to use the OIA system in which to know anything about their claim is a distraction from that particular success.

It also shows that EQC has a customer focus model which is not broken and actually, they are correct. The model they came up with in 2011 is very good and demonstrates a real understanding of what needs to happen to put the customer in the centre.

The problem is that EQC didn't set up any real structures or processes which would allow them to implement it. In a bid to process claims quickly, they have failed to put the model into practice at all and the customer is still first and foremost, a claim number.

So on that more negative note, here is a summarised, paraphrased glimpse of some of the organisational failings although you may want to look at the full report for the official jargon-filled version:

- there would be a whole lot less misinformation and gaps if the different departments would only talk to each other,

- accountability and role responsibility would be great things to have,

- staff need to be allowed to talk to each other, customers and others outside the organisation,

- too few of the right people are able to make decisions,

- EQC gets seriously freaked out about the idea of having to share information (so often they don't),

- trust is a fine thing and it should be exercised.

You can see why it has been difficult for the average EQC customer to receive anything like good customer service and it can all look a little terminal for EQC.

However, as well as pulling the organisation apart, the report does what many others before it have failed to do - identify the solutions.

The customer needs to be made the focus, instead of the organisation, and in a very simple sense, EQC has to think about you as a person and make good choices accordingly.

We think that at this point in the recovery it might be a bit much to ask residents to have faith in EQC's ability to implement these changes so luckily they don't have to.

Another smart move on EQC's behalf was to commission a group who could put their words into practice. The idea is to get changes in place in the three to six month timeframe and unfortunately there are still enough numbers on their books to make that worthwhile.

So in summary, well done to EQC for commissioning this report. Thanks to LSI for pointing out so clearly that EQC customers were not wrong to complain.

We now want EQC to go beyond thanking the people of Greater Christchurch for their incredible patience and offer up an apology to those people who have suffered as a result of their failings.

Apologies can help people leave anger behind and we can't underestimate the importance of that as our community tries to heal.

As for EQC, we can only hold our breath as they face their final chapter of this recovery. In their bid to wind up, will they take on the challenge they have now been presented with or will they continue their production line of business as usual?

Leanne Curtis is a founding member of and a spokesperson for CanCERN, a community organisation established after the September 2010 earthquakes. The report she describes can be found at www.eqc.govt.nz/ about-eqc/publications/reports.

 - The Press

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